How to Choose a Diaper Pail

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 20, 2022
4 min read

Diaper pails are a handy accessory that is especially useful to new parents who cringe at the thought of having to change a dirty diaper and deal with the smell. Whether you have a newborn, infant, or toddler, you’ll be changing plenty of diapers over the course of the coming months, and you might be wondering just where to put dirty diapers. 

While changing diapers and the smell that comes with them is an unfortunate part of parenthood, it can be made easier with the right diaper pail. 

Simply put, diaper pails are similar to trash cans, but they’ve been designed specifically for dirty diaper disposal. These trash cans have a special seal to prevent unwanted odors from infiltrating your home.

Some diaper pails even come with built-in deodorizers to help them smell better and locking mechanisms to keep your little one from getting inside.

While these nifty accessories aren’t a necessity, they are definitely nice to have. Instead of tossing dirty diapers into your regular kitchen trash can, where they’re likely to pile up and start to stink, you can dispose of your little one’s messes in a sealed container that prevents odors from escaping.

When it comes to emptying your diaper pail, the best practice is to empty it daily. 

It’s also important to keep your diaper pails clean. Mold and mildew are prone to grow inside of these pails due to the wet diapers, lack of airflow, and dark environment. Cleaning these pails often and putting them in well-ventilated areas is a must. 

Most manufacturers of diaper pails will recommend cleaning the pail once every three months. However, it may sometimes be better to clean them once a week instead. 

There are plenty of diaper pails available on the market, and it might seem overwhelming to choose the right one for you and your little one, especially if this is the first pail you’ll be purchasing. Aside from reading reviews and asking for recommendations from other parents, it’s important to consider the following: 

Material of the Pail

There are two types of pails: plastic and metal. Metal diaper pails will look nicer than plastic ones and have better control of odor, especially over time. However, they do tend to cost more than their plastic counterparts. 

The Volume of the Pail

If you have twins or triplets or if you live in a multi-family household that has more than one diaper-wearing child, it’s important to consider the volume of the diaper pail. If there’s more than one baby involved, you’ll want to choose a larger diaper pail. 

Ease of Use

Ease of use will save you a lot of headaches down the road. Choose a pail that has additional features such as foot pedals to open the lid or one that can be operated with one hand. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure the pail you choose is easy to empty when you are dumping out dirty diapers or swapping out a full bag. 


Diaper pails come in a range of prices to serve a wide customer base. Many pails have a significant price difference. The more expensive diaper pails, such as metal pails, will offer more functions and better quality. If you have a smaller budget, though, cheaper diaper pails will still get the job done. 

Odor Control

Odor control should be at the top of your considerations when it comes to choosing a diaper pail. After all, that is the main purpose of purchasing one – to contain a foul odor

Various pails offer varying degrees of odor control. Some pails will have better seals, some will have better opening and closing mechanisms, and some will come with built-in deodorizers. Some pails, such as those made from plastic, will absorb bad odors over time, and the smell can be difficult to get rid of without replacing your pail. 

In the end, you’ll want to choose a pail with good odor control to keep your house from smelling bad. For the best results, pick one that has a built-in deodorizer. 

Diaper Material

Diaper material is one of the lesser considerations, as most diaper pails can handle both throwaway diapers and cloth diapers. However, if you’re a parent who uses cloth diapers, then you might want to check to make sure that the diaper pail works with them, just to be safe. 

Other Considerations

If you care about aesthetics, then you should opt for a pail that has a sleek design, such as a stainless-steel diaper pail. 

Some people want to save as much money as they can. If you’re one of those people, you should consider finding a diaper pail that is compatible with all disposable bags so you don’t have to buy custom ones specific to the pail. 

There are also diaper pails that come with antimicrobial properties built in. These properties may prevent germs from spreading. 

Some diapers come with a self-sealing system that keeps odors under control whether the lid is open or closed.

If it’s simplicity you’re after, consider buying a diaper pail that has no special locking mechanism. However, if you have little ones who are prone to investigating all the nooks and crannies of your home, then it might be a good idea to invest in one that has a locking mechanism. 

Lastly, there are a few pails on the market that offer UV sterilization. If you want to keep things as sterilized as possible, consider investing in one of these. Just note that it will need to be hooked into an electrical outlet in order to work.